While many of us think we know GIS, the question of what do GIS professionals do and how they can pitch themselves is perhaps more complex, particularly in today’s world of rapidly changing technologies.
Two geospatial podcasts have addressed this issue, although coming from slightly different perspectives. Adam Carnow’s interview discusses how GIS is used or underused, including how it is understood by others. The interview with Jessica Touchard has some practical advice for GIS job seekers and how to pitch yourself to organizations.
How to Market GIS to Your Organization
- Focus on what the technology can do for the business not the technology itself
- Use location to solve problems, and communicate ideas
- Communicate and develop how organizations see GIS
One problem of how GIS is seen in organizations is professionals are seen as people who focus on using GIS to make maps. Businesses sometimes have specialists who may make maps but often there seems to be an underutilization or even misunderstanding of what a GIS specialist could do.
Rather than pitching GIS professionals in the business and wider world as effectively mapmakers, we should possibly learn our lesson from the business world, such as how information technology (IT) management is now seen as a lesson as to how to pitch what GIS means to an organization.
In the case of IT managers, they often have training in business and IT systems, where their skills are seen as strategically important.
For GIS, most GIS professionals have minimal business experience, making it harder to explain the role of GIS within business/organizational goals. Often, GIS professionals emphasize their use of a GIS technology rather than the insights or knowledge gained that might be beneficial.
Emphasizing what GIS does, such as spatial or data insight, could be a better approach to indicate the strategic relevance of GIS since it highlights the value added.
The problem is GIS professionals, if they do not explain their roles adequately, become people seen as mapmakers or people who make map visuals to be used in business presentations.
“Oh, you make maps? great! I will come to you when I need a map”
The role is not seen as part of the strategic goals or core skills that organizations need to achieve their missions. Pitching yourself as someone who brings business value to key operational goals, such as information and knowledge to improve business that happens to involve spatial properties, might be a better way to pitch the roles that GIS professionals do.
Many GIS professionals have advanced spatial analysis skills that bring value in insight gained about how businesses could improve operations and long-term goals that should be emphasized more.
In the long-term, the way GIS is viewed in organizations may also have to relate to how GIS professionals develop their skills and market themselves.
Education systems may have to adapt and integrate GIS training with business skills so that GIS professionals see themselves as part of key organization goals. In the near future, it is likely that GIS or spatial technologies become more integrated with different common tools, such as collaborative environments or business management environments that are becoming even more popular during the lockdown.
Highlighting how spatial information is helping decision-making about the COVID-19 pandemic could be one way to help GIS professionals be seen as people who do more than make maps.
Communication, integrating with the Internet of Things (IoT), and related upcoming technologies, including artificial intelligence, could be the skills that are further needed. Training in business will also be critical as spatial tools become critical to business practices.
How GIS Professionals Should Market Themselves
- Your hard skills are important, when applying for an entry level position focus on those.
- For senior and specialists positions, pitch your projects as well as your deep technical understanding
- Management positions require proven communication skills and a focus on strategic goals
Pitching Yourself as a GIS Professional
So how could you pitch yourself as a GIS and spatial technology specialist?
It involves improving or developing skills in coding, such as Python, having strong communication skills, what really should be emphasized as a core skill, have a learning attitude to expand your skills, and attend the key industry and related conferences where you can network.
Research has also highlighted how having diverse experiences with projects but also experiences with different people can help your professional and educational development.
On your CV, pitching projects, rather than jobs, might also be useful because it shows what you have actually done and highlight key skills. Utilizing work platforms, experiences outside of work such as group activities, and projects as a student could also be highlighted as part of your experiences on a CV that highlight personal and communication skills.
As you begin to advance your career, communication becomes even more important. This includes written skills as well as presentation skills.
Specializing technical skills may become key in different sectors, including energy or remote sensing. What is key here is to pitch what exactly it means to have good communication skills. You can highlight specific experiences rather than simply state they have good communication skills.
It could also be useful experience if you have, for instance, public sector experience and want to move to the private sector. Using your experiences with organizations that are transferable while highlighting these along with your GIS skills could make you stand out as a job candidate.
Technical skills will always be needed but as you advance your career skills, capabilities such as communication and experiences in different roles, could become more important.
Pitching GIS to organizations GIS professionals are in, and the ones they want to join may mean that such specialists will have to emphasize more than just their GIS skills. Seeing your role beyond simply making maps to someone who brings added value to an organization will be important to make GIS better known while also advancing your career.
Developing technical skills as well as communication skills and diverse experience can aid your career and help advance the utility of GIS for organizations.
 For more on the future direction of project management and range of skills needed, including in GIS and artificial intelligence, see: Atolagbe, Abidemi, and Schenita Floyd. “Diversifying the Next Generation of Project Managers: Skills Project Managers Must Have in the Digital Age.” In Sustainable Digital Communities, edited by Anneli Sundqvist, Gerd Berget, Jan Nolin, and Kjell Ivar Skjerdingstad, 12051:665–76. Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-43687-2_56.
 For more on a study and survey on critical education needs in GIS and GIS skills, including where current GIS training falls potentially falls short, see: Kedron, Peter, Amy Frazier, Christopher Greene, and Danielle Mitchell. “Curriculum Design for Upper- and Advanced-Level GIS Classes: Are New Skills Being Taught and Integrated?” GI_Forum 4, no. 1 (2016): 324–35. https://doi.org/10.1553/giscience2016_01_s324.
 For more on how education is helping to create relevant skills for GIS knowledge, see: Mitchell, Jerry T., George Roy, Stephannie Fritch, and Brandy Wood. “GIS Professional Development for Teachers: Lessons Learned from High-Needs Schools.” Cartography and Geographic Information Science 45, no. 4 (July 4, 2018): 292–304. https://doi.org/10.1080/15230406.2017.1421482.